Monday, January 30, 2012

My first bust

So one of my resolutions for this year, in order to take some of the pressure off me, was that I wouldn't waste time on reviews I didn't want to write. That means giving up on books I know from the start aren't going to work for me, as well as giving myself permission to skip writing reviews on books that just aren't worth the effort. Because I can't do much of anything without giving myself some guidelines, I decided I'd have a two-book limit for each of my three review days. If I finished both and didn't want to review, that was it.

Today is the first time that's happened.

I read two, The Professor's Assistant and Anna Doubles Down. The first is an m/m steampunk from Liquid Silver that squicked me out in the first chapter with all the references to how young one of the heroes was, and because the writing just wasn't good enough to counter that, I finished it with a sick feeling in my stomach. The second is a time travel menage from Siren that didn't sound as bad as the erotic titles from Siren usually do. The excerpt didn't completely suck, either. Well, I was wrong there. Really amateurish writing and editorial inconsistencies were just the start there.

So there isn't any full-blown review today except for those nibbles. Hopefully, this doesn't happen too often, but when it does, this is what you can expect.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ghosts of Boyfriends Past by Vivi Andrews

TITLE: Ghosts of Boyfriends Past
AUTHOR: Vivi Andrews
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 41k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $4.50

Witch Biz Marks is cursed. Every Valentine’s Day for the past three years, the man she was seeing died. Once she figured out what was going on, she tried swearing off men, but so far nothing has worked. So when reporter Mark Ellison shows up at her store, trying to ferret out the true story behind the so-called Black Widow of Parish Island, her immediate attraction to him sends off all kind of warning signals. She tries to push him away, but the more she pushes, the more intrigued Mark gets. Not even discovering that the ghosts of her three so-called victims live with her is enough to throw him off…

Humorous books don’t have to be laugh out loud funny to work. Sometimes, it’s enough to be charmed by the prose and turn every page with a smile on your face. That’s certainly the case for this short novel.

When her grandmother died, leaving her alone, Biz did the unthinkable. She cast a spell looking for love for herself. That was the one big no-no she was taught, and as a result, the spell turned into a curse. For the past three years, the man she was seeing has died on Valentine’s Day, leaving her terrified to get involved again. It’s also left her with three ghosts, sharing the old house that also serves as her charm store. The one thing she wants to avoid is someone else dying, so when reporter Mark Ellison shows up in her shop asking questions, her walls go up. He’s gorgeous, and she’s immediately attracted. It’s got warning bells all over it. She tries to push him away, but Mark is convinced there’s a story behind the three deaths. He’s decided he’s not going anywhere.

What I love most about this author’s work is the crispness of her prose. It’s quippy without being annoying, bantery in all the right places, and moves along at a brisk enough pace to make the book seem shorter than it actually is. While I didn’t laugh out loud during it, I did go through it with a smile and a certain joy. It’s hard not to enjoy these two characters interacting with each other, or the multitude of colorful secondary characters that pepper the cast. Everyone has a frothiness to them, even the hard-edged Gillian, Biz’s best friend.

The two leads are suitably appealing. Mark is charming and determined, while Biz has an everywoman feel about her that would spark something in most female readers. I did wonder what Mark saw in Biz specifically, whether his reactions were genuine or a product of the curse, but that’s a symptom of the story rather than a flaw in the characterization. As fun as Biz can be, too, her back and forth attitude with Mark and how she’s going to deal with him grew old halfway through the book. The story is already very quickly paced. Toss in her constantly changing feelings, and I had a sense of whiplash by the end.

Still, with such sparkling prose and light mood, this rates higher than a lot of other holiday stories I’ve read. Not all of her backlist appeals to me, but the more I read by her, the more likely I am to give them a go anyway.


8/10 – Crisp humor and brisk pacing


7/10 – Charming, but I’m never really sure just what his attraction was to her


7/10 – Loved her humor about the whole thing, but the back and forth of her attitude toward Mark got old

Entertainment value

7/10 – It wasn’t as laugh out loud funny as I’d expected, but I did go through it with a smile on my face

World building

8/10 – The world of Parish came to sparkling life, though I would’ve liked a little bit more about the magical side of things



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Always a Princess by Alice Gaines

TITLE: Always a Princess
AUTHOR: Alice Gaines
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 83k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $5.39

When Philip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley, spots the princess at a ball, he knows immediately she’s a fake. The question is, why is she pretending to be an Eastern European noblewoman and how quickly can he get her to himself? He doesn’t expect to find her trying to pilfer their hostess’s jewels, especially since he’s just taken it for himself, but by the time she shows up at his home the following day with the intent of blackmailing him to keep his secret, he’s already decided they’d make a fabulous team, both in thievery and elsewhere…

I had a splendid experience with a book I read by this author last year, and this second effort proved just as entertaining.

The delight starts early and swiftly. We open at a ball, where Philip, the Viscount Wesley, has spotted a woman who is clearly an imposter, pretending to be a princess from a small Eastern European country none of the simpering men surrounding her have even heard of. Philip has, however, and much to the woman’s chagrin, he’s intimately familiar with it. He quickly discovers that she’s at the party for the same reason he is – to steal jewels from their hostess. Where his motivation is sheer boredom, Eve – the imposter princess – is doing it in retaliation after having lost her position as governess when her employer’s son had her take the fall for a cameo he stole from his mother. Eve’s rationale is that since she’s already been accused of thievery, she might as well do it. So far, her plan has worked well. But then she met a man who’d actually been to the country in question, and now everything is in disarray. In an attempt to keep control of the situation, she decides to blackmail him, to force him to pay her to keep his secret that he’s really the Orchid Thief. Philip laughs at the offer. His reputation is the last thing he worries about. But he’s got a counter offer in mind, one that poses them as partners rather than adversaries.

I was laughing at this wonderful farce almost from the start. Philip is roguish and intelligent, with just enough determined swagger to keep him edgy and the right balance of manners to keep him from going over the top. His dialogue, no matter who he’s addresses, comes fast and furious, leaving no room for skimming for fear of missing something he’s said. He typifies the farcical nature of the entire story, and honestly, what a breath of fresh air it was. There isn’t nearly enough farce in romantic fiction, probably because it’s hard to do well. This succeeds. Very, very well.

Is it the most original story? Well, no, but that doesn’t matter when the dialogue and hero sparkle as much as they do. The set-up, taken outside of the context of farce, would be hard to tolerate, because a reader would be left with abundant questions on how so much could get handwaved away (Eve’s acceptance into the ton as nobility before the Rosemonts vouch for her, for one). But farce demands a stretch of that acceptance, and as long as you’re prepared to go that far, it works anyway. The chemistry between the two leaps off the page, mostly as a result of Philip, and the sex when it comes is scorching.

The complaints I have are few. First of all, Eve isn’t quite as entertaining as Philip, but then again, he tends to get the best lines so it’s easy to get eclipsed by that. I did find her ultimate secret a tad banal considering the nature of the story, and it veered dangerously close to more dramatic historical romance as a result. It felt out of place in a story that was so outrageous already. There’s also a point just over halfway through when Philip lost his shine and turned into one of the simpering men who’d been fawning over Eve at the start. It’s just when he’s begun to realize the depths of his feelings for her, and his behavior becomes uncomfortable to witness. It doesn’t last, thank goodness. If it had, it might have been hard to finish.

But what a joy it is to find a book that has me laughing and smiling as much as this one did. While humor can be quite subjective, especially in written form, I think it’s safe to say that this author’s style of it definitely works for me.


9/10 – Far-fetched, but funny with witty banter you can’t take your eyes off


9/10 – Except for a brief period where he turned into one of the simpering fools from the beginning, delightfully roguish and witty


7/10 – Not as consistent as the hero, and her secret is a little banal in light of the farcical nature of the story

Entertainment value

8/10 – Delightful and funny, as long as you accept it as farce

World building

7/10 – Stretches credibility, but then again, that tends to be one of the requirements in farce



Monday, January 23, 2012

And Hell Itself Breathes Out by A.R. Moler

TITLE: And Hell Itself Breathes Out
AUTHOR: A.R. Moler
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 74k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $6.99

In a bid to gain more power, two young men in an exclusive fraternity begin performing blood rituals, leading to deaths that remain unsolved by DC police and the SIS. Two authority figures, Agent John Benchley and Detective Evan Garrett, are working the cases independently until they realize they can get further working together. Then, their working relationship turns into something more…

I’m always excited about finding books that try to do more than the usual romance, but sometimes, they end up biting off more than they can chew.

In a series of short scenes, we’re introduced to a wide range of characters – the power-hungry, greedy fraternity brothers; agents in the SIS, a special branch of the federal government that deals with the odd and the occult; detectives in the DCPD. It gradually narrows down to the primary players, Agent John Benchley and Detective Evan Garrett. When they start sharing notes, things start coming together, but bodies are still stacking up.

The problem with this novel is that it can’t decide what it wants to be, and as a result, never really succeeds at any of them. There’s the paranormal angle, with the ritualistic murders; the police procedural angle, with the careful deconstruction of the cases; the romance, with the slow, steady relationship between John and Evan. It tries, it really does, but the prose isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to pull it off. The scenes are too short and static to build any sort emotional connection, and the constant headhopping and frequent editorial errors (missing prepositions, missing articles, etc.) only added to that disconnect.

Each does have strengths, though. Careful detail is given to the procedural aspect, sometimes too much. The romance sets itself apart from the norm with the gradual build-up. It was refreshing to have two strong leads not immediately jump into bed together if it wasn’t appropriate. The bloody paranormal angle is effectively gruesome (though more sensitive readers might want to be wary). I just wish it had been put together more smoothly, with a better balance so that I could genuinely care. I’ve had better luck with other stories by this author, so I know it can work. Just not in this one.


5/10 – Headhopping, proofing errors, and short jerky scenes did nothing to create any kind of flow

Hero #1

5/10 – Nice and intelligent, but it took too long for him to form any kind of personality

Hero #2

6/10 – More interesting than John, but suffers from the same lack of focus for too long

Entertainment value

3/10 – The story’s lack of focus prevented any one angle from succeeding satisfactorily

World building

7/10 – The procedural aspects were well thought if a tad boring



Friday, January 20, 2012

Reckless in Moonlight by Cara Bristol

TITLE: Reckless in Moonlight
AUTHOR: Cara Bristol
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 44k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Dana Markus is in the middle of a divorce. Her husband left her for a woman barely older than their daughter, and now she finds herself wondering about her own desirability at the age of forty-five. During an evening skinnydip in her pool, she fantasizes about her neighbor’s twenty-eight-year-old son, only to have him show up in the hot, living flesh only moments later. Attraction flares from the start, but Dana isn’t looking for a relationship, and especially not one with a younger man. But their desire for each other is combustible. Is it so wrong to want some of that passion for herself for a change?

I have to admit, I’ve been curious about this author. I hadn’t read anything by her before now, because the titles I’d seen were domestic discipline in nature, and while I understand it’s purely fantasy and escapism, that’s a no-go area for me, no matter what. So when I saw this older woman/younger man story come up, I decided to take the plunge and try her. I learned something very important. Her erotic style and sense of humor don’t mesh with what I enjoy.

It’s a straightforward contemporary. Dana is forty-five and in the throes of a divorce. Her husband cheated on her and left her for a woman only two years older than their daughter, and Dana is feeling less than desirable. She fantasizes about the neighbor’s hot son, a twenty-eight year-old doctor with a body like Adonis. The night they actually get to meet face to face – in her backyard after she’s been skinnydipping – that fantasy becomes reality. Lon has been lusting after his parents’ hot neighbor for months, and now that he has got a taste of her, he wants to have a go at dating. She’s a little hung up on the age difference, but he quickly takes care of that. With lots and lots of sex.

Buying from LI is a lot like buying from EC 90% of the time. The focus tends to be on the sex in the romances, which isn’t always a bad thing. It only gets in the way when the erotic style doesn’t work for me, and unfortunately, that was the case here. Much of it has to do with terminology, and that’s a preferential thing that varies from reader to reader. What bothered me – like having cocks and pussies referred to as “weeping” – might not bother others. I did debate early on if I should keep going once I realized I was going to have issues with it, but because it’s such a recent release and because I’ve been so curious about this author for so long, I stuck it out.

It wasn’t just the erotic style that didn’t work for me. Attempts to lighten the mood with jokes and banter fell flat as well. Humor is so subjective, though. Lines like, “I plan for you and my cock to get to be best friends,” are obviously meant to be funny (within the context of the story), but just made me roll my eyes and wonder if I was reading about teenagers instead of adults. I ended up feeling rather indifferent about the whole experience, from the characters to the romance to the sex. I don’t regret buying this book, though, because my curiosity has finally been satisfied.


6/10 – Purely based on the author’s humor and erotic scenes not working for me


4/10 – So much was spent on the sex there was too little time to learn what he might actually be like when he wasn’t


5/10 – At least she didn’t whine about the age difference for half the book

Entertainment value

3/10 – I learned the author’s erotic style and sense of humor does not mesh with what I enjoy

World building

5/10 – Everything felt skimmed over in favor of all the sex



Thursday, January 19, 2012

To Die For by Caitlyn Willows

TITLE: To Die For
AUTHOR: Caitlyn Willows
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 42k)
GENRE: Contemporary suspense erotic romance
COST: $7.00

Once a victim of domestic abuse, Zoe has moved on with her life, doing her best to rebuild with the man responsible for the damage behind bars. But now he’s out, and in a chance encounter, lets her know he’s coming after her. When Detective Frank Ludwig finds out, he swears to protect her. He’s been in love with her for six months, and damned if he’s going to let anybody hurt Zoe, even if she’s more than capable of taking care of herself…

Though this romantic suspense had a lot of potential in it, I finished it feeling like it just never quite hit the mark.

It starts off at an emotional high, as Zoe is coming off her shift where she has just saved a cop’s life by talking to him and keeping him engaged. However, in the same incident, she was also threatened. Her abusive ex-boyfriend was the criminal in question, and when he heard her voice, exploded with anger, emotions that have built since he was arrested and convicted after she’d turned him in. She arrives at a Denny’s, trying to figure out what she’s going to do next, and is dismayed to see a group of cops she works with there already. They applaud her as a hero, but when the man she’s been lusting over, Frank Ludwig, decides to join her, the whole story comes out. Frank has been in love with Zoe for months. When he hears about the danger, he refuses to see her slip through the cracks, taking her personal safety into his own hands while the department does what they can to track down her ex. Thus begins an explosive few days, as the threats escalate and the pair come to grips with their mutual attraction.

In spite of the confusing opening pages, enough becomes clear as the story progresses and Zoe opens up to Frank a little. I was intrigued about where it was going. Zoe is sympathetic and relatable to many women, insecure, plus-sized, and I liked her, even though she felt scattered. I disregarded the latter because it felt organic to her situation. I was meeting her in the middle of an emotional crisis. Of course, she’d be scattered. But what was scattered at the start became bouncing around from one extreme to another as the story progressed. It got a little tedious.

Frank proved the same. I liked him from the start, his fierce defense of Zoe, his determination to do the right thing. I was rolling onto loving him until the first time he really put his foot in his mouth. He has a tendency to stop thinking once their relationship turns sexual, and blurts out the first thing he thinks of, which is usually very much the wrong thing to say in the moment. This propensity gets worse as the story goes on, mostly because it felt like that was the only way to create any internal conflict between these two. They yo-yo like this throughout the entire book, a jerky effect that is mirrored by the stop and go nature of the suspense angle. It makes it easy to put down, even though I wanted to pick it up again moments later.

Suspense thrives on building tension, and while there is danger throughout this book, when the lulls come, the tension drops away almost entirely rather than ebb enough to relax the reader into getting sucked even harder into the next swell. I suspect it worked against me because of the extended nature of the romantic scenes within those lulls. I needed that momentum in the romance, but they went on too long for me, even as hot as these two were together.

In the end, the story was enjoyable enough for me not to regret reading it, but I ultimately feel like maybe with some tighter editing, it could have been really great.


7/10 – Minor typos and some terminology that usually turns me off, but otherwise swift and easy


6/10 – His reactions felt realistic in hindsight, but his propensity for stepping in it wore thin


6/10 – Liked that she knew how to take care of herself, but she felt a little all over the place

Entertainment value

6/10 – The pacing was rather jerky, making it easy to put down when I hit lulls

World building

7/10 – The emotional reality of Zoe’s past was well-done, but I kept feeling like I was missing something in regards to the suspense portion



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Next review on Thursday

As I'm against SOPA and PIPA, I'm logging off on Wednesday. I will post my review on Thursday instead.

Monday, January 16, 2012

From Afar by Ava March

TITLE: From Afar
AUTHOR: Ava March
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 73k)
GENRE: Gay historical paranormal erotic romance
COST: $3.50

For three years, Raphael has admired Aleric from afar, but one night, when Aleric gets attacked by thieves, Raphael finds himself at Aleric’s side. A bad injury has Aleric hovering on the brink of death. Incapable of imagining a world without Aleric in it, Raphael does the unthinkable. He turns him. Now he just has to hope Aleric doesn’t hate him for it, or that London’s vampire clan leader will allow either of them to survive his transgression…

I like good erotic scenes as much as the next gal, but if it’s trying to be sold as a romance, too, I need a little bit more than that. This novella is a perfect example of just not enough.

The eroticism begins almost immediately, with vampire Raphael perched in his favorite tree, watching the object of his lust and affection with a prostitute. He jerks off, then proceeds to follow Aleric home. When Aleric is jumped by thieves, Raphael intervenes to help. His aid comes too late, however, and Aleric is mortally wounded. Raphael reacts to the moment and proceeds to turn him.

To be honest, not a whole lot happens after that, except sex, a little bit of tension regarding the head of the London vampire clan, and then some more sex. So while the author’s prose affords satisfying tension within the erotic scenes, when it comes to anything else, well…there’s just not much there. Both male leads suffer from stunted characterization. They’re not unlikeable. They’re just very one-note. Raphael is consumed with his crush on Aleric, while Aleric spends too much time floundering from his vampire adolescence to have any real understanding of what he might be like. Without being able to connect to them emotionally, I can’t connect to the romance, no matter how sizzling their sex scenes might get.

As impressed as I was with the facility of slipping into the author’s human historical world, I was equally disappointed by the paranormal aspect. We get some answers about how the vampires work in her vision, but not many, and in a market where every author tends to pick and choose which mythos to use, that’s a detriment. It’s understandable why more aren’t forthcoming. Raphael is an outsider to the vampire world, and his one real source of information is a potentially deadly one to him. But choosing to gloss over real answers because of a protagonist’s lack of insight felt like a copout. It’s too easy, and left me ultimately dissatisfied.

Overall, this was an easy, hot read, but if you’re looking for any type of depth of real romance, you’re not likely to find it here.


8/10 – Smooth and easy, with just a hint of being too terse

Hero #1

6/10 – His loneliness is appealing, but so much of his characterization is zeroed in on his feelings for Aleric that he doesn’t really get to escape that for more

Hero #2

5/10 – Nice enough for the erotic sections, but not interesting enough to anchor the romance

Entertainment value

6/10 – Reading purely for the eroticism, it works, but the romance and the paranormal world-building are too shallow to rate this higher

World building

7/10 – The human world is painted well enough, but Raphael’s outsider status seems like an easy excuse to not bother answering valid questions about the vampire world



Friday, January 13, 2012

Fractured by Sandra Sookoo

TITLE: Fractured
AUTHOR: Sandra Sookoo
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Futuristic sci-fi erotic romance
COST: $5.25

Major Rick Keenan is on his way back to Earth from his very last mission before getting stuck in a desk job when his shuttle is trapped by a tractor beam on one of Saturn’s moons. When one of his crewmen is captured while in search of crystals they need, he sets off on a rescue, only to discover he’s been taking prisoner to be food by an alien female who needs his blood to survive. Rick agrees to trade places with his crewman, in hopes that he can broker some kind of relationship between their species, but he quickly finds out it might not go as he intends…

My son is in love with Once Upon a Time, which means I’ve been exposed to a lot of fairytales recently. When I saw this was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, while the premise is interesting, the characters don’t live up to their potential.

All of his life, Rick has wanted to explore the stars and meet alien races. With the space program about to be dismantled, however, he’s on his very last mission. At least until he and his shuttle are trapped on one of Saturn’s moons. One of his crew goes out in search of items they need to take off again, but when he calls in a distress signal, Rick does what he has to and goes off to rescue him. He finds him prisoner of an alien female, one with fangs and bloodthirst, who needs the man for food. Rick barters a trade – his life for his crewman’s – and ends up in the unique position to try and find some sort of peace between humans and this strange alien. Marin hates humans, since they’re responsible for the Cleansing and the scattering of her species, but Rick seems different. Her lonely existence is eating her up, and though she won’t admit it, she is desperate for a change. Rick seems like the perfect opportunity for that.

The fact that the fairy tale has been reversed, with the heroine as the Beast, was a great starting point for this story, but for me, it never really got off the ground. Part of it came with some early proofing mistakes (She'd been taught that only members of her own race could make her feels thus, for instance) that jerked me out of the reading experience. It’s a peeve, it really is, but I wanted to like this so much that I stuck with it. Though the rest of the prose is certainly competent enough, the spark I needed from either one of the two leads never managed to materialize. Marin had the potential to be interesting, but her erratic moods wore on me quickly. Rick, on the other hand, bored me. His reactions throughout the beginning and most of his imprisonment were rational and realistic, but that was about it. I never really got what was so special about him, other than being told Marin was attracted to him.

Other awkward aspects that hindered the reading experience included a couple flashbacks that were meant to give some history about Rick, but jolted me out of the moment with frantic searches back in the story to determine what the year header meant in terms of the continuity. It was clumsy, and with the passages so short, felt pointless. I couldn’t help but wonder if the information they were meant to convey couldn’t have been passed along in some other way. An epilogue that happens when there isn’t really a resolution to the story yet (except for declarations) felt even odder, especially since it was divided into two sections, one taking place three months later. The first half of it was actually the real resolution of the story, which for me means it should be part of the story, not part of the epilogue. The epilogue would’ve had much more of an impact had it just been contained to the three months later segment.

One bright spot was the care taken in creating Marin’s species. I could see her clearly, and felt like I understood how her kind had reached the point it had. It would’ve been nice to see the same care taken with the rest of the world-building, but with so much of the story contained to the confinement, this isn’t so much a flaw as it is an annoyance.

I can’t recommend this book except to fans of the author or those who might fare better than I did with the two leads.


7/10 – Early errors in proofreading almost made me stop, though the rest of the prose is fairly innocuous


5/10 – Realistic reactions, though he didn’t charm me at all


5/10 – Liked the reverse on the Beast angle, but she otherwise felt flat

Entertainment value

3/10 – Though I liked the premise and twist on the fairy tale, I never felt any chemistry between the two which made the story fall flat

World building

7/10 – Some good details, though the concentration on her as an alien species ends up meaning less time on other aspects



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Past Her Time by Melissa Jarvis

TITLE: Past Her Time
AUTHOR: Melissa Jarvis
PUBLISHER: Siren-Bookstrand
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 81k)
GENRE: Time travel romance
COST: $5.50

As an agent for the Lineage, Alex’s job is to correct anomalies in the timeline without interfering with anything else. Being placed in 1793 Revolutionary France isn’t her favorite assignment, though. She hates the stuffiness, and the etiquette, and having to play the simpering female, but a job is a job…at least until she runs into an Englishman with an unknown connection to the man she’s supposed to save from the guillotine…

I’ll be honest. Even though I’ve had this book since its release last summer, I’ve been reluctant to try it due to its publisher. That was a trifle unfair. Though it might look like it on the surface, Siren does actually publish more than the outrageous ménages I associate with them. This certainly could’ve been published by any number of other e-pubs just as easily.

It’s a time travel romance about Alex, a woman from the 21st century who works for an agency called the Lineage. Her job is to correct anomalies in the timeline without interfering in local events beyond what she’s instructed to. Her latest has her in Revolutionary France where her mission is to prevent a man named Fontaine from getting executed before his time. In a chance encounter, she meets Englishman Gabriel Huntington and quickly learns that he’s an associate of Fontaine’s. Since he has appeared nowhere in her brief, she keeps tabs on him, hoping to use that connection to get to Fontaine. It works too well. She soon learns Gabriel also helps to rescue people from the guillotine, which casts him in an entirely different light than she was expecting. For his part, Alex – or Alexandra, as he knows her – is different than any other woman he’s ever met, able to see through his pretenses, keeping him on his toes. Their chemistry sparks early on, but the rules of her assignment are clear. No involvement. She’s just having problems actually obeying them.

I do love a good time travel, and combined with how I was feeling guilty about shuttling this to my TBR for so long just because of its publisher, I was determined to stick this one out. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. The first chapter was good – tense, action-driven, sympathetic characters. But the first bit of exposition that occurred on Alex’s purpose, with her interaction with her partner Banderan, threw me into a tailspin. She specifically says this is their fourth assignment for the Lineage. Her partner considers her a rookie still. Yet, very soon after (in the same scene), there are allusions to a time when she broke cover and her claim it was one of only a few, the large number of broken hearts Banderan has left behind, as well as blatantly saying she’d been working with him for years. I couldn’t sort that out in my head. They’d had four assignments, and worked together for years? It could only be an editorial inconsistency, I thought, and debated giving up then. If there was such a blatant mistake that early on, it didn’t bode well for the book.

However, I decided to persevere. Eventually, I decided an assignment was a blanket term meant to apply to being placed in a specific time period, and that each anomaly they corrected within it was something else entirely. That was the only way to justify the inconsistency. That rationalization seemed to fit with what I was reading, and soon, I could let go my mistrust of the book to slip into the story.

The fact that it was action-packed helped. It wasn’t always clean – there were time and scene shifts within chapters that felt inorganic and jumpy – but it always moved the story forward. I also liked the characters enough to see it through. Neither one was anywhere near as smart as they thought they were – a couple times Alex made such stupid mistakes, it was hard to believe she’d been an agent for years – but they really did have some chemistry, and I was intensely curious about how it would get resolved.

The action and chemistry compensated for a lot of the other shortcomings. In addition to the things I mentioned earlier, the time travel isn’t handled very cleanly, and I had a lot of questions about how some things worked. This book is labeled as book 1, so I imagine a second will be out at some point that might do a better job at explaining. About Banderan, perhaps? I don’t know. Maybe. I’ll decide if I see its release whether or not it’s worth it to continue. Right now, I’m on the fence.


8/10 – Good detail and flow without being overbearing, though the lack of clarity on assignments near the beginning had me wary of editorial issues for far too long


7/10 – I liked him, but I thought his constant masks weren’t differentiated enough to be as stark as the heroine claimed


7/10 – Not nearly as smart as she thinks she is, but still likeable for the most part

Entertainment value

7/10 – Though it took me a while to get past my misgiving at the start, there was enough action and chemistry to keep me involved for the duration

World building

7/10 – The historical detail was good – if a little coy at times – but the time travel element wasn’t as clear as it should have been



Monday, January 9, 2012

In the Darkness by Charles Edward

TITLE: In the Darkness
AUTHOR: Charles Edward
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 73k)
GENRE: Gay historical fantasy erotic romance
COST: $7.99

Gareth is a monster. That’s what he’s always been told. He needs to hide away at night, never be seen. But his curiosity about the outside world drives him to watch, and in watching, he falls in love with a beautiful young man named Evin. Evin is the sexual toy to a powerful young man in his village, and when Gareth sees him getting hurt, Gareth breaks all his rules and interferes. In the days after Evin sees him, refusing to acknowledge him as a monster, the two become fast friends…then more…

This book is just further proof that I’ll finish a mediocre read if it targets one of my bulletproof kinks. In this case, it’s the Beast archetype.

Gareth is that Beast. Forced to spend his days in his parents’ cellar, he is only allowed out at night to do the chores. His parents have warned him his entire life that if he gets seen, he’ll be killed as a monster. The reason for that? He’s green and very large and strong. He also learns that he has unbelievable recuperative powers, which only seems to reinforce the monster accusation. His one escape is sneaking away to watch the people in the nearby village, specifically a beautiful young man named Evin. Evin is the sexual plaything for another young man, one with a great deal more power, and one night, when Gareth witnesses Evin getting hurt, he breaks the rules he’s been given to save Evin. He’s afraid to show himself to Evin, but Evin demands it. Though Evin is at first taken aback by his appearance, he soon gets over it, and the two eventually become lovers. But Evin’s so-called “master” isn’t happy about Evin’s shift in attention, and eventually, Gareth and his peace is interrupted.

In a lot of ways, this is two different books. The first half is straight-up romance. Evin and Gareth are all lovey and sexual and the only conflict is internal. Then, halfway through the book, it shifts to an action fantasy story. There’s no smooth transition, and the writing isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to meld the two. The problems I had in the beginning with an incredibly stilted voice morphed into a lack of clarity once the action set in. Much of that is due to being thrust into a fantasy world with such little preparation. There’s new characters, new politics, new dangers, and it took a long time to get it sorted. Too long. It needed more seamless world-building in the first half to make the latter easier to process. (I was also chagrined to see the perspective slip at the very end of the story. What had been a reasonably tight 3rd all of a sudden headhopped in a crucial scene.)

So why did I finish it if I had a problem with the voice? Because of Gareth. The Beast archetype is an exceedingly common one in romance, and is one of my bulletproof kinks. I kept on going because I cared about Gareth, in spite of not being fully invested emotionally in the story. His simple ways, coupled with his unexpected gentleness, go a long way in making up for other shortcomings.

Evin isn’t quite as fully fleshed out as Gareth, mostly because he serves as a foil for Gareth in the first half, and then spends too much time not himself in the second. I kept waiting for more, but when it finally came, it was too late for me, and I finished the story a tad disappointed.

It’s certainly not a bad story, but it’s not a great one, either. Readers who are sensitive to sexual violence should likely steer clear, as well as those who’d rather not see any het contact in their m/m.


6/10 – The stilted voice in much of the first half makes it drag, and the schism between the two halves detracts from it further

Hero #1

6/10 – Tantalizing possibilities with him though not all were realized

Hero #2

7/10 – I’m a sucker for the Beast archetype and Gareth is no exception

Entertainment value

6/10 – Hard to engage because of writing style, then because of disjointed second half

World building

6/10 – It felt like a lot of good ideas that never got the fleshing out they deserved



Friday, January 6, 2012

Headstrong by Meg Maguire

TITLE: Headstrong
AUTHOR: Meg Maguire
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $5.50

When Libby catches the latest man her father has hired to keep an eye on her, she offers him a deal – play double agent and get her father off her back, and she’ll pay him even more. For Reece Nolan, the offer is tempting. His family is in dire need of the money, but Libby is everything he’s always hated. It doesn’t help that she and his brother Colin hit it off almost from the start. But which brother will eventually win Libby – the one she wants or the one she understands?

I’ll be honest. The only reason I bothered finishing this book is because I’ve loved so many other works by this author. If this had been the first thing I’d ever read by her, I would’ve been done by the third chapter and written off trying anything else.

The plot is straightforward love triangle. Libby is a free-spirited rebel, living on a boat, certified genius who likes to stir the pot. Reece is uptight and glacial, with an eye for the straight and narrow, while his brother Colin is much like Libby. Libby meets both brothers in separate incidents – Colin when he rescues her from an annoying drunk, Reece when she catches him spying on her for her father. Soon, she’s wormed her way into their lives, and all three of them are left wondering just what is going on.

I’m not going to talk anymore about the plot. It’ll spoil everything, and the way it’s played out, it’s impossible to tell just who is going to end up with who until almost the end. Each is given time to explore their point of view, turning it into a bona fide love triangle. There’s just one major problem. I absolutely couldn’t stand Libby. At all. And without liking her, I just got angrier and angrier at how she acted with both brothers.

That’s not to say she’s not well-drawn. She’s clear as day. She manipulates, she likes creating trouble, and she has no problems keeping people on edge. While I liked her initial introduction, as soon as I saw her behavior outside of that specific incident, my opinion of her plummeted. It didn’t matter whose eyes I saw her through, whether it was Reece’s or Colin’s, and it only got worse when it was her own and I could follow her manipulative thoughts. What was probably meant to be forthright and quirky annoyed me to the bone. I loathed how she treated people, and wished more than once she would just go away.

Reece and Colin are much more sympathetic, even as different as they are. Their family is the emotional core of the story, and their presence helps a little bit to mitigate some of the damage having Libby around did for me. But it wasn’t enough. And I was definitely not satisfied with the ending. I was so frustrated with Libby’s treatment of both men that it wouldn’t have mattered which one she ended up with. They both deserved better, frankly. None of her backstory that was meant to help make me understand or like her did anything but make me roll my eyes.

I wouldn’t suggest this as an introduction to this author’s work. I’m not even sure I’d suggest it for a fan of her work. My reactions to Libby are extreme, though, so maybe others might not have the issues with her that I did.


8/10 – Technically proficient and readable, my issues lie with the characters


7/10 – I’m not going to elaborate because I don’t want to spoil the triangle


3/10 – I’ve often had problems with Maguire’s heroines, but I genuinely disliked this one so much I almost gave up more than once

Entertainment value

2/10 – Triangles work best when all three sides are equal, and my issues with Libby were so strong I was angry more than anything else

World building

6/10 – Proficient enough to create a mood, but not as vivid as I'd expect



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep by Michael Merriam

TITLE: Should We Drown in Feathered Sleep
AUTHOR: Michael Merriam
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Futuristic fantasy
COST: $2.69

Crippled as a teenager, Grace survives in her post-apocalyptic world as best she can, but time is beginning to weaken her defenses against those who see her as a burden. While she sleeps, she hears the mysterious loons whose magic governs human’s new way of life. Nobody else can, and the annual meeting to sacrifice one of their own to them is upon them…

One of my resolutions this year is to be pickier about which books I read, and by read, I mean actually finish and review. I started two before settling on this short novella, one that was DNF and one that left too little to talk about to waste time on a review. My hopes are that it’ll give me a lot more to be excited about this year than I was last.

This short futuristic fantasy from Carina is a solid entry into those ranks. It’s the story of Grace Kriske, a young woman in her twenties who has been stuck in a wheelchair since she was a rebellious thirteen. She’s still rebellious, hating to be waited on, but she is slowly losing her strength to beat against those odds. Sometimes, she dreams that she can hear the mysterious loons that reputedly populate a nearby lake. These same loons are the focus of an annual ritual whereby locals and traders meet up at the lakeside, conduct a lottery amongst the citizens, and send the chosen one to the loons. Supposedly, it’s to give something back to the community, but those who are chosen don’t seem to benefit from it. At the meet-up, Grace gets to see her once a year lover David, but it’s there, too, she discovers something that will change her life forever.

Because of the story’s brevity, to give away too much of the details would spoil what happens. That’s a shame, because it’s those plot twists, even in such a short space, that add to its compelling nature. What I can say is that the authorial voice is by far the strongest aspect of it. The tone is ethereal and melancholy, very much matching Grace’s mood and emotions, with haunting details that seep from every page. It sucked me in, even when I had lingering questions about what was going on and what the loons part in it all was. It definitely makes me want to seek out more of this author’s work, since a unique voice is often so hard to find.

What I wish worked better was the exposition side of the story. Some details are skimmed over or simply not given at all, and the resolution, while a natural progression from the plot, occurs too abruptly and with little emotional arc. I imagine a good number of these weaker aspects are due to the story’s short length. I don’t think it should’ve been a novel by any means, but perhaps just a thousand or two more words might have answered enough of my questions to anchor me more securely within its world. It would have enriched some of the secondary characterizations as well, giving David a bit more depth for me to understand Grace’s complex feelings for him, or to help differentiate the various elders amongst the others.

Still, it made a welcome change to read something that takes more risks than typical genre fiction. I’ve also found a new author to check out, which is always a bonus.


8/10 – An ethereal, melancholy voice only hampered by not quite enough exposition


7/10 – Grace has the best job of this, since she’s the protagonist, but some of the more important secondary characters tend to blur


7/10 – Not as clear as it could’ve been, and the resolution was a little abrupt

Entertainment value

8/10 – I enjoyed this more for the mood and authorial voice than the story

World building

7/10 – The background wasn’t quite clear enough to provide the clearest picture of the present, but the details provided were evocative and lovely



Monday, January 2, 2012

Nineteen by A.J. Mars

TITLE: Nineteen
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 16k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $3.99

A typical day of hanging with other people his age turns into a moment only imagined in fairy tales for a young man who’s only been kissed before…

After a year with few real knockouts on the reading front, I took a break from reviewing and romances to focus on real life and the holidays. I have to admit, I wondered about coming back at all. Was it worth it? Would 2012 be as disappointing as 2011 was? But when I dipped into my TBR pile and found this short novella buried from its 2010 release, I discovered I could still be surprised and enchanted enough to keep going.

Rather than a long, drawn-out plot, this tidy little offering encapsulates a single day and night in the life of nineteen-year-old Ezra. He’s hanging out with other students one hot summer day, not really doing anything, not really expecting anything, when he spies another young man named Nick. Magic happens. He doesn’t really believe it at first, because it’s the stuff of fairy tales, this clicking at first sight, but that’s what happens, and the two spend some rather amazing time together, all leading to the loss of Ezra’s virginity.

The story is told in third-person, present tense, in a breathless style that tumbles phrase over phrase so quickly, there’s little time to pause. Even if it is in 3rd person, there’s a definite stream of consciousness to Ezra’s voice, complete with the way his youthful thoughts scatter and jump, sometimes repeating, sometimes disappearing altogether. It’s utterly enchanting at the start, and lends a unique authenticity to the narrator that prevails for the bulk of the telling. At times, it does feel a tad romanticized, but that’s likely a byproduct of the entire surreal mood of his disbelief that all of this is actually happening to him. It’s easy to go along with it, at least until closer to the end when the frenetic pacing drags on a little too long, giving the sense of same-old, same-old when it really isn’t.

While not quite as much is known about Nick, since this is so brief and he plays such a romanticized role in it, he has a certain casual charm and innocence about him that makes it very believable for Ezra to fall for him so quickly. Without that, the story wouldn’t work nearly as well, and honestly, only fails because of the lack of variation within the pacing. I also found myself wondering a little about when this might be placed. The sixties music is considered old, but if there was a time marker to designate when exactly this occurred, I missed it. Probably a victim of being caught up in Ezra’s emotions. But I did love the HFN ending, and because of this, am excited about reading again. I only wish this author had other books for me to buy.


9/10 – Fresh, unique voice, with the breathlessness of youth in the phrasing

Hero #1

7/10 – Authentic if slightly romanticized

Hero #2

7/10 – Love the casual innocence about him

Entertainment value

8/10 – The urgency of the moment carries this far, but it begins to drag with a little bit of same-old, same-old near the end

World building

6/10 – Though the moments and people feel real, there’s a sense of timelessness to it that makes it too hard to pinpoint when in contemporary times it really is